A good friend of mine, someone I’ve known almost all my life, just turned 50. To kind of celebrate this milestone, he’s been posting these wonderful memories where he picks a year from his 50 and shares a very detailed memory involving someone important at that time and then, at the end of his post, he gives a link and asks for a donation to a charity or a group that is meaningful to him. It’s amazing to read. But, then again, he’s always been a truly amazing person.

What keeps striking me is the depths of his memory. He had one that actually involved me from his (our) first grade year. I read the post, knowing full well that I was there for everything he talked about, but with absolutely no idea what he was talking about. I mean, I knew that the setup was factual – we were taken from our first grade classes and began spending time with the school librarian doing different things. It was our district’s fledgling attempts at a program for gifted students. I know it happened, I know the teacher’s name. I remember being told that I was too fidgety. I remember NOTHING else.

This is typical for me. There is something either missing or blocked in my brain about much of my childhood. I have memories basically based on pictures I’ve seen over and over – factual accounts with the 4 Ws (who, what, where, when). No why. I’ve talked about this before on this platform. Sometimes it really, really bothers me. I hate that I can’t remember really influential moments or things I’ve done. It’s upsetting, but there’s nothing I can do about it, so I try not to dwell.

Here’s what I do have. I have feelings. I have waves of emotion that are linked to sounds, smells, sights. Like, a song will come on that is linked to a certain time in my life and I’ll be hit by a wave of feeling. Tension, relaxation, peacefulness, yearning, pain, embarrassment, etcetera. And the feelings are rich…..deep………full of truth and memory.

This time of year is one of those feelings. I’m sure all adults can relate. The time after school lets out for the summer. The feeling of freedom, of relaxing, of possibilities.

It hits me hard every year, but this year it was visceral. I got hit one recent evening, driving with my windows open, with the smell of fire. And it hit every single cell of my body. I wanted, right then, to go back to the summers of 1985 or 1986, sitting around a bonfire on a summer night after spending the day swimming or driving or hanging out. Beers? Maybe. It depends on the location. It was 1985, after all. Sitting in the grass or on a log. Music in the background – probably either The Nylons or classic rock. There’d be singing along, whatever it was. There’d be stories and definitely loud, loud laughter. Tim would be there. Jannah. Dean. Kristin. Georgette. Maybe others – Brad & Mike & Kelly & Andy, maybe Connie. If it was at Tammy’s there were many , many more. There would be both loneliness and a strong bond fighting each other for dominance. I mean, when we had each other we were never REALLY lonely. But as with any group of young people, there were always unspoken feelings, needs & desires, fights and dreaming of something we thought we couldn’t have. So we weren’t ALONE, but I think each within us was still lonely….or maybe LONGING is better…for something.

Anyway, that smell, that quick waft of burning logs on the summer wind, made me yearn, deeply, to go back. Maybe it’s those early summer feelings of freedom & possibilities I was yearning for. Maybe it was the connection of friends when you feel like nothing will ever part you. Maybe it was a simple old woman’s wish for fewer responsibilities and “have to”s. I don’t know. But it was so very real.

No. Wait. It’s not that it was real. I mean, it was real like smoke is real. I could see it, smell it, feel it and probably thought I could just reach right out and grab it. But, like smoke, it wisps away, teasing you that no matter how badly you yearn, you’ll never wrap your hand around it. And while so much of me is glad that I’m at this stage of life, part of me craves that feeling of youth. That feeling of invincibility and possibility. That feeling of minimal responsibilities and seeking fun. Being able to sink down in front of a bonfire on a weeknight surrounded by friends and, yes, even drink too much with them. Of desiring things you haven’t had or haven’t experienced. Of climbing in the car and driving to Lake Geneva or Glacier Park or Fontana or even just to the end of the road and exploring. But we can never go back.

This also happened to me with a song recently. Well, 2 songs, actually. The first one I could identify why the feelings came. The second I couldn’t.

Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.

Suddenly, it was summer of 1991. I’m driving down South Lake Shore Drive out of Lake Geneva over to the south side of the lake where my family’s cabin was. My boyfriend at the time was in the passenger seat. Windows are down, hair is flying. I am singing the shit out of this song. Probably annoying him. I don’t care. For some reason, I think it’s Memorial Day weekend, I’m not sure. Maybe July 4th? Not sure. But it was a holiday weekend because he was able to come up from school at U of I for the weekend where we camped out in the cabin with another couple. We were free. For a couple days, anyway. We could wake when we wanted, swim if we wanted, hang out in the cabin or drive into town, get breakfast at a downtown diner. Play games, watch videos. It was a taste of adulthood without any responsibilities. Hearing the song again, I could feel it all. The wind, the lake air, the crazy sweat from the uncooled cabin, the cigarette smoke, the cold Diet Coke, the pasta we made for dinner, the feel of the lake water as I dove in, the annoyance of no window coverings on the lake side windows. But most of all – the YOUTH. I could feel the youth.

The other song was Fleetwood Mac. Say You Love Me

I heard this one because my band is adding it to our repertoire. When the first chords hit, I got goosebumps and the same feeling. This time, I don’t know why. I couldn’t scrounge up a memory about it. But something within it brought me back to younger days.

So that’s how memory works for me. I may not have detailed stories I can share. I may not be able to give you the “why” of anything from the pictures in my mind. But I have this. These deep, visceral, sweeping feelings that take me back. From one measure of music or one whiff of something, I can tell you whether it’s good or bad. And, if I’m lucky, I can succumb to the deep intake of breath it creates and the resonating, almost moaning sigh from going back to a time when I could relax and be free. Maybe that’s all I’ll get. I’ll find a way to make that okay.